July 2020 Early Retirement Update

Breaking news: we just had the biggest earthquake in 100 years here in North Carolina! Sunday morning we woke up to the whole house shaking. I immediately recognized the rumbling and jostling after living through a much stronger quake in Mexico more than 20 years ago. No damage here in the Raleigh area. But at the epicenter in Sparta, North Carolina, the 5.1 magnitude quake caused some structural damage to buildings.

In other breaking news, I can’t believe summer is almost over. Here in Raleigh we have less than one week before school starts! We’ve had a relatively lazy summer compared to our normal trips around the globe the past few years when we visited Europe, the Bahamas, and Southeast Asia

But hey, we’re in the middle of a pandemic so I guess hunkering down at home is as good as it gets right now. This summer, we kept busy with lots of video games, board games, and books while it’s hot outside. Plus the occasional bike ride on cool days or a trip to the swimming pool when it gets particularly hot. We are making the most of life at home! 

Financially speaking, July was a great month for us. Our net worth climbed $70,000 to end the month at $2,133,000. Income was relatively decent at $5,675 while our expenses came in slightly below budget at $3,035 for the entire month. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $2,897 in July. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December with some payments arriving at the beginning of the next month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, totaled $1,306 for the month which was several hundred dollars less than last month. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $550 for the month of June which represents two sessions of two hours each. The consulting income has been relatively steady the past few months after taking a big hit during March and April. 

“Travel” income of $836 comes from all the cancellations and refunds from our summer trip. In this case it’s the cruise deposit from our August cruise plus the taxes on one flight in South America. I have received almost $2,000 additional travel refunds in August so far. After a herculean effort, we were able to obtain full refunds of all cash and miles expended for our entire 9 week summer vacation through Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. 

The “deposit income” totaled $48 in July. These funds came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Ebates.com and Mrrebates.com online shopping portals (some of which was earned from you readers signing up through these links). 

If you sign up for Ebates through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Ebates, you’ll get a $10 gift card. 

The final $36 of income received during July came from our dental insurance company. We bought a new dental insurance policy in July for Mrs. Root of Good and the coverage is already paying off. Hopefully we’ll get another big reimbursement check in August or September for a significant dental procedure.

 

 

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Expenses

Now let’s take a look at July expenses:


 

In total, we spent $3,035 during July which is about $300 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Healthcare/dental and home maintenance topped the spending categories for the month. 

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $1,413:

Our 2020 healthcare premiums are $123 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$40,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. The benefit of being “poor” on our tax return. 

Both of the adults in our household bought dental insurance since the premiums are anticipated to be much less than the actual dental care we receive during 2020. The premiums total $64 per month for the two of us. 

Mrs. Root of Good needed a root canal to fix a previous root canal procedure from about a decade ago. Apparently these things can go bad after a while.

Mrs. Root of Good chose the best endodontist in town. Unfortunately this specialized dentist does not take insurance. However our dental insurance provides a fairly reasonable reimbursement for out of network dentists. I’m hoping we get about $900 in reimbursement for the procedure. We paid just over half the cost in July ($1,225) and will pay the remainder once the procedure is finished in August. 

 

sunset-on-lake-july-2020
Enjoying the sunset over our lake

 

Home Maintenance – $771:

Since we are stuck at home, we’ve been thinking about home improvement projects to tackle while we have plenty of free time. 

The kitchen and dining room flooring was already old and showing wear when we bought our house 17 years ago. It was time to replace the old flooring with a nice modern looking engineered vinyl plank (EVP) flooring. The flooring material cost $629 which was about $3 per square foot for just over 200 square feet of floor area. 

We spent a lot more to get some fairly high end flooring materials. The cheap stuff runs about half the cost of what we paid. Since our house is 50 years old, the floor isn’t perfectly even. So we needed some thicker vinyl planks. Another benefit is the printed wood pattern layer is about twice as thick on our planks (0.50 mm) compared to the cheap stuff (0.20 to 0.30 mm). 

The material is pretty awesome. It’s totally waterproof, so we don’t have to worry about spills in the kitchen or dining room. 

We spent another $136 on various materials and supplies like liquid nails, metal nails, tacks, screws, and caulk. That also includes the purchase of a $100 impact driver for my brother in law. He was the brains and brawn behind the installation job so this was a little “thank you” gift.  And he needed it to get into a tight space between the joists underneath the house to shore up a squeaky spot in the floor. 

The squeak is fixed and the finished floor looks great! 

 

flooring-installation
Work in progress: my bro in law laying the flooring. Me repairing the fridge water supply line after we busted it loose while sliding the fridge out. Oops…

 

flooring-final-product
The finished flooring. Looks great!

 

To close out the home maintenance category, we spent another $9 on an upper rack replacement dishwasher spray arm spinner. After a wash cycle finished, I realized the old spray arm spinner popped off and landed in the upper rack.  The tiny plastic pin holding the spray arm spinner in place was stripped out from a decade of washing one or two loads of dishes every day. 

I’m basically a pro at repairing our dishwasher now, so the replacement only took about five minutes. 

 

Groceries – $641:

Grocery expenses were a bit higher than usual in July, but that comes after spending less than $300 in June. So averaged over the whole summer, we’re still keeping groceries to a very modest level. 

I’m still using Walmart Grocery pick up service several times per month along with visits to Aldi, Lidl, and Food Lion. The Walmart grocery pickers put together your order for you and you just drive up and click a button on the Walmart app to get them to bring the order out to you. The best part is you pay the same low prices as they offer in-store to all their customers and there is no delivery fee.

If you want to try Walmart Grocery, you can take $10 off your first $50+ order with my referral link. Enjoy! 

 

homemade-eggrolls
Homemade egg rolls. Yum!

 

stir-fry-curry
Pork and vegetable curry

 

Utilities – $154:

The city water, sewer, and trash bill was $131 for July. 

The natural gas bill for hot water was $0 since we got a $150 rebate in the form of a bill credit when we installed our new tankless water heater in May. I still have over $100 in credit balance on the natural gas account.

In February I paid $602 for electricity which left us with a huge credit balance. After five months, we finally used up all that credit and had a small $23 bill in July. Our electric utility no longer charges a convenience fee when paying with credit cards, so going forward I’ll just pay the balance each month. I used to pay a big lump sum to minimize the credit card convenience fees assessed by the utility.

In the future, I may pay a big lump sum toward the electric bill if I need to spend a lot of money at one time to qualify for a credit card sign up bonus. It’s an easy way to generate some quick spending on something we will definitely use. 

If you want to score free travel or big cash back from credit cards, there are several cards currently offering 50,000 points or more. These points can be redeemed for $500 cash or $500+ in free flights or hotel stays. Compare travel and cash back credit card deals

 

Restaurants – $41:

We don’t go out to eat a lot in general. We go out even less now given the whole global pandemic thing going on. 

In July, we celebrated Mrs. Root of Good’s birthday. I picked up fried chicken from Bojangle’s and some pizza (for $41 total) to accompany her birthday cake ($19 but I included that in groceries). 

 

birthday-celebration
Another birthday party with just the five of us.

 

Cable/Satellite – $18:

We pay $18 per month for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 30 mbit/s download, 4 mbit/s upload.

 

Gasoline – $0:

I wanted to list this expense in case anyone was wondering. We don’t drive a lot, so we don’t buy gas every month. We’re back at a half tank now so we’ll probably have to refuel again in September! 

 

fourth-of-july-2020
Crazy Fourth of July fireworks celebration with the in-laws

 

sesame-balls
At the July 4th party, we ate these rice flour pastries stuffed with a sweet bean filling.

 

Total Spending for 2020 – Year to Date

 

Our spending totals $18,259 for the first seven months of the year. This is $5,000 less than the $23,333 we budgeted for seven months of our $40,000 annual early retirement budget

We are still well under budget in spite of some notably higher than normal spending in a couple of categories.

We spent $3,700 in May on a new tankless water heater, plus another $762 on new floors in July. During the June to August period we will end up spending around $2,500 on various dental procedures and office visits for the two adults in the household. 

The good news is that the higher home maintenance and dental costs will be offset by lower travel spending. So far we have spent basically nothing on travel after netting out the refunds on all the travel we had booked for this summer. 

In other travel news, we planned on visiting Spain for two weeks in October. In July, we made the tough decision to cancel this trip given European travel restrictions for Americans. The pandemic is once again surging in Spain and it’s no fun to travel when you’re worried about getting sick or having your trip majorly interrupted. 

Plus, I assume a lot of tourist attractions and restaurants will be closed if we were to continue with our plans to visit Spain in October. That’s no fun! We can make this trip happen at some point in the future I hope.

 

lantern-and-moon
Enjoying a cool evening in the backyard

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2020:

 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

 

chess-game-kids
Keeping the kids busy with friends and chess

 

Net Worth: $2,133,000 (+$70,000)

July left us richer once again. With strong stock market gains, our fortunes keep on rising. We are up more than $600,000 from our recent lows at the bottom of the stock market in March. Who would have imagined this?! 

 

 

I didn’t really do anything during the month with my investments other than collect those sweet dividends. 

 

Life update

Life is good. What else can I say? We made a plan to retire early and executed on that plan. 

Seven years ago I left the work force and never looked back. In those seven years we have traveled all over the globe (when possible) and enjoyed a lifetime supply of leisurely pursuits.

Our portfolio increased by more than 50% since I quit work. We have no real fears of ever running out of money for various reasons. Our spending remains low even when we hit a few unexpected bumps in the road (because we planned for them).  

While it’s a bummer that we can’t travel anywhere in the near term, there are upsides. We have more time to focus on projects around the house and to buy some technology and household upgrades. Money is no problem because we are spending thousands of dollars less than normal on vacations. 

 

ticket-to-ride-game
Plenty of time for games this summer, too!

 

Here we are at the end of summer vacation, just a few days away from our kids’ return to school. It’s going to look very different this fall since all three of ours will be enrolled in the “Virtual Academy” for at least the fall semester. We opted for the fully online distance education option.

The alternative was a mash up of some in-person learning plus some online learning where classrooms would be one-third full each week. Maybe. Except they will start out all online initially for an undetermined length of time. Or never go in person at all. Or maybe return to 100% of students in class every week. 

We opted for the simpler Virtual Academy that brings more consistency and safety for our kids each week.  It will definitely feel different going “back to school” this year! 

The oldest two kids just received their high school daily schedule and it consists of four hours of online courses before lunch. After 12:00 they are done with scheduled activities for the day. They may spend less time on school this fall than they do when attending in person! 

 

baby-robins-in-nest
We had a nest full of baby robins in our front yard this summer

 

I’m looking forward to the fall, too. Cooler weather means more comfortable days lounging outside and enjoying the outdoors. And campfires! 

Okay, folks. Thanks for tuning in to another edition of the Life and Times of Root of Good. See you next month! 

 

Are you ready for summer to be over? How are you hanging in there?

 

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46 comments

  1. We thought about your guys when we hear the news about the earthquake. Glad to know what everyone is safe and that there hasn’t been any physical damage to report! Hope you won’t get one of that magnitude for the next 10 years!

    And congrats on getting all of these refunds come back it. What about Airbnb? Did you got a refund on everything and in full or do you still have some booking pending? For us, we could not get the service fee refunded on our Credit card. Instead, Airbnb gave us Airbnb credit, which is fine for us since we still heavily rely on Airbnb here in COVID19 paradise (aka Taiwan). Breaking news: we will be sharing soon on our blog what we have been doing to get Taiwanese residency that will allow us to stay here in for up to 3 years!

    1. I got 100% of the airbnbs in S America refunded. Just contacted the hosts 3 months ahead of time and they all agreed to cancel with 100% refund even though several had “strict” cancellation policies. Then I contacted airbnb and they manually refunded 100% of all the costs to original form of payment (gift card in this case).

      That approach didn’t work for my October Spain trip. The hosts wouldn’t agree to cancel with 100% refund so I’m letting the reservations sit till Sept 1 at which point I will fall under their Covid19 cancellation special policy. So I’ll probably get 100% refund including service fee in the form of a future Airbnb credit. We tend to use up airbnb credit pretty quickly as well. So hopefully we’ll all be traveling in the next 12 months so we can burn up those airbnb credits!! We use several thousand every summer so it’s no problem to burn through the ~$400 I have booked for Spain.

  2. We still have almost a month before the kids go back to school. They’ll actually be “in school”, but that’s the benefit of paying for private school with small class sizes and adaptability. On the minus side, it will probably cost more than all your living expenses this year.

    That’s a nice floor. We did something similar a couple of years ago. It has been so much easier with the dog sitting business as the occasional messes are so much easier to clean up. It’s also easier cleaning up after young kids.

  3. Curious to know if home value is included in your net worth? If so, which number do you use – Zillow?

    I have only recently come across your blog. We also have 3 kids and are within a few years of FI. Thanks for all the great information!

    1. Yes, home value is included in NW. I use Zillow as a guide then knock off ~10% to account for costs to sell the house. So I carry the house at ~200k on my balance sheet.

  4. Earthquakes on the east coast are weird. I’m glad y’all rode it out alright! Back in 2011, a 5.8 hit the DC area (you might’ve felt it down there as well). I happened to be using the toilet on the top floor of a brick office building. Never have I felt more helpless. Six or seven seconds into it, when I fully realized what was going on, I put my head in my hands and literally said out loud “I guess this is how it ends.” 😛

    That floor looks FANTASTIC. Good call on buying the quality stuff!

    1. That’s crazy! We missed the big DC quake that was felt down here. We were at the beach and saw the news on the TV in a pizza restaurant. That was the first I knew about earthquakes hitting the east coast like that!

  5. Hi, I’m a new reader of your blog and have enjoyed seeing your adventures on in early retirement. Thanks for all the details you share as it puts real numbers behind what you’re doing and encourages me to seek something similar. I have a question and I apologize if you have covered this in the past. I’m curious about your kids college…if they plan to go how are you planning to pay for it or how are they planning to pay for it? Do you have a 529 plan or something different? Or maybe they have something other than college in mind or maybe a trade school? Just curious what the plan is and if you could share, that would be awesome. Many thanks and keep up the good life!

  6. Too bad about not being able to travel. We did some camping this summer in Rocky Mountain National Park and some local state parks. My wife and I plan to go to Glacier NP in September . At least we can still do camping and hiking during the pandemic. Good luck with the virtual school this Fall. Fortunately my children are finished with school so we don’t have to worry about that.

  7. Congratulations on another great month, and having the family illness-free. Always happy to see people doing well in the world, particularly with so many complaints out there from all sorts of folks.

    We had a great last couple of months as well on the financial front. Due to my being more active in the markets we were able to take serious advantage of the big downturns in many stocks and made some good money on them, and will be continuing to do so in the coming months. In fact this past week we hit our all time high in investible assets, and that is after eleven years of the wife not working and six for me, with only SS coming in as our income source. As you said, life is good.

    Here is TN school starts full-time tomorrow; the kids had a partial day last week for registration and the like. As you can imagine there is a battle royal going on between those who want the schools open and those that don’t. Meantime our county is doing a good job on the Virus front, with the death count not having changed in a long time from the total of six we have had, and our positive cases against total tests taken being much lower than most of TN (and TN is doing good overall). Hopefully this will turn out well for all.

    Do you know how your B-in-L went after the squeaks in the floor? We have a large one story house with a lot of wood flooring, along with carpeting in the bedrooms, and I have tried different approaches over the years to solve the squeaks, but nothing works long-term. Curious what he did if you know, or could kindly ask him. Otherwise keep up the great work, best wishes to you and your wife, and hope for a fantastic school year for the kids.

    1. The squeak fix was trial and error. Screws through the top of the floor (through old flooring) into the joists. Added a sister joist covered in iquid nails squirted in between the joists and the subflooring (from the crawl space access). And finally a “temporary” (maybe permanent) new support column underneath the house. It’s a 2×4″ on a stone block foundation that pushes against the sister joist.

      The new flooring also helps I think. It’s nice and thick 7mm engineered vinyl plank flooring.

  8. We heard about the quake in our southern neighboring state but didn’t feel anything up here in VA, though apparently it was possible we would! Glad it wasn’t worse.

    I’m always surprised by your electric bill. It’s been cooking this summer, and I think we’ll crack $150 or so for our July bill (which it sounds like, when ignoring your credit, yours is less). And we’re just two people in a ~1,500 sq ft place! You keep it 76f in there? 🙂

    Glad you all have managed to find some positive elements to staying home, canceling all the trips hasn’t been fun. Ticket to Ride is a ball, and that European edition is more enjoyable than the base game. Codenames could be fun with the kids, too.

    Cheers, keep trudging along.

    1. Our electric is usually $150-200/month in the peak of summer. But I had paid it ahead a few months and just now got a tiny bill in the mail after burning through all the credit I had on the account. August’s bill was over $200! But I think a big part of the summertime bill being higher now vs. my old memories is simply inflation. Electric rates have gone up about 20% since we’ve really spent a whole summer at home. So a $200 bill from back then is closer to $250 now. Keeping the AC tuned up is key too. I try to do a service call once every 2-3 yrs minimum. And I keep an eye on the elec usage – if it spikes abnormally high as the AC usage increases then it means something is out of whack on the AC (dirty coils; slightly low on refrigerant etc) so the service call helps.

      And yes, we keep it 76F during the day and 70F at night. Sometimes cooler during the day just to get it to kick on and eliminate the humidity.

    1. That would be worrisome! We don’t have to think about the house getting totally destroyed all that much. Maybe a hurricane but we’ll know ahead of time if it’s going to be really rough, so we can pack our bags and get out of town.

  9. We’re still about a month to go before school starts again. Right now the plan is full time school as the BC government has announced but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s the plan since active COVID-19 cases are increasing the last month.

    Scary stuff about the earthquack. Good to hear that everyone’s safe.

    1. Hopefully your case numbers remain much lower than ours IF they do actually open with in-person schooling. I’m glad we have the virtual option down here. Cases are finally starting to decline (if you trust our official state data) but it’s still too early to say that’s a long-term trend.

  10. This made me check on my superannuation balance.
    Still creeoing slowly higher!
    🙂
    My state is in stage 4 lockdown for another 5 weeks, so I’m teaching from home for the duration. Very happy that I’m not forced to go into crowded classrooms with people who won’t self-distance.

    1. Higher and higher the market goes. When will it stop? Nobody knows!

      I don’t have a good feel for what % of schools here have gone to all virtual but it seems like a lot. Our 160,000 student district here in Raleigh is 100% virtual for at least 2 more months we found out (and we’re booked into the All Virtual academy through 2020 at least). Most of the big universities have switched to all distance ed too (after a week of reopening in person and having mega covid clusters break out :/ ).

  11. Hello Justin! I am glad everyone was ok. I was also in Mexico in the earthquake from 20 years ago, scary! I just started my blog after I got laid off last month; I am still adapting to life as a retiree but so far I am enjoying the free time. I have a Honda Fit which is worth about 10k and I have the comprehensive insurance but I have been considering cancelling comprehensive and just go with bare minimum policy. After all, I barely use the car nowadays. other than that my expenses are in line with what you normally post about.
    I am liking my new hobby of blogging (is it even a verb?) and have learned a lot from it; I created my own retirement calculator for example. I thought creating a blog was harder but it is actually pretty easy.
    Any advice for us new retirees? What about new bloggers?

    1. Congrats on the retirement and getting started on blogging! My advice is have fun doing it and don’t let it turn into another full time job (unless you love it so much!). Treat it as a hobby. It took me about six (very productive) months after retiring to take a step back from the productivity mindset and switch to the leisure mindset.

  12. Congrats on another great month. That was crazy to see an earthquake in that part of the country. Glad everyone was ok. I’ve only been through one earthquake and that was vacationing while in Bali. It was mild; I didn’t even notice it but my better half did.

    Question on your tracking of refunds. I noticed you include the travel refunds as income. Does that mean for expense tracking you leave the initial payment as an expense for the full year. So if you spent $1,000 on a trip in March that got refunded in July, you will still end the year with $1,000 in travel expenses, along with $1,000 in income for the refund? Or do you ultimately net those out of expenses, so you would show $0 in travel expense.

    1. In general the refunds aren’t a big % of total spending throughout the year so I just leave them as “income”. That’s more a feature (bug?) of how Personal Capital reports the refund transactions. They dump them into the “income” category. But you are right. Technically it should offset the travel spending category. I suppose at year end I could stick a footnote in my 2020 spending report and net out the travel “income” against the travel expense.

  13. Hello Justin, would like to know what type of consulting you do? I’d be interested to hire you as I prepare my finances to retire next year, not an early retirement as I’m already 60. Would greatly appreciate to hear from you. Cheers!

  14. Ticket to Ride – I love that game! Board games have definitely kept this household sane during the restrictions. My state parks pass has been worth it’s weight in gold! Here in Central Texas, the summer heat is crazy intense and a dip in a local river or lake does wonders for the spirits. I’ve been researching gardening and will try to turn my black thumb into a greenish color this autumn with a late autumn/winter planting season in the backyard. Fingers crossed, hah!

  15. The fact that the best endodontist in town doesn’t take insurance is probably because they got sick of being paid less, late, only after a massive hassle. Single payer healthcare with full dental now!!!

    1. You are right in a way. They’ve calculated how to make the most money for the least hassle and it’s probably going out of network everywhere. Get less customers but make more $ on each one. Their reimbursements are probably 30-50% higher vs accepting insurance!

  16. Being able to find joy in the simple (and free) things around you is what living a rich life is all about. Like enjoying having a nest full of baby robins in your front yard. or spending quality time with your family. And of course, who doesn’t love baking.

  17. Do you consider the full balance of your retirement accounts as part of your net worth?
    I’ve never considered. Only 60% (10% penalty +30% Tax bracket) as the current balance of them.
    Is that the way you do as well?

    1. I consider the full balance as assets. And the tax liability I have budgeted as an expense I have to pay each year out of my annual withdrawals. If we keep spending ~$40k per year as we have historically then our tax liability will be TINY while the kids are dependents. Then go up a bit once they’re out on their own (but our living expenses will drop accordingly when it’s just 2 of us on the “payroll”).

      Your approach is fine but probably too conservative. There are ways to avoid the 10% penalty for the most part (Roth IRA Conversion Ladder for example).

      1. Thank for responding so quickly. I agree I may be too conservative but as I’m in the US under a green card and I don’t plan on retiring here but on my home country, I’ll have to pay taxes over there in France so maybe it’s good to be a little more conservative. Thank you Justin.

    1. Nothing has changed with the Personal Capital service as far as I can tell. That may change so I’ll keep you all updated!

      As for the calls, either block the number or tell them you don’t want any more marketing calls. I haven’t had a call from them in several years! 🙂

  18. Those floors look great! I’m currently working on my bathroom right now, putting up new hardiebacker and then tiling. It was a necessary repair because the old tiling was starting to peal off and the board behind it was rotting. But it’s a chance to make it look a little snazzier.

    The eggrolls and curry look fantastic too! My new ladyfriend is Chinese and she is an amazing cook. I’ve been enjoying homemade dumplings and noodles among other great Chinese food. She tends to send me home with a lot of leftovers too. Life is good, my friend.

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